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“A Case Study in Failed Leadership”

August 16, 2008

A scathing report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies(in PDF) faults the Navy leadership from Secretary Winter on down for wishful thinking in shipbuilding plans, as well as muddled mission plans for new and untested warship designs. Read this:

Unrealistic cost estimates and doubts about requirements have led to the cancellation of the DDG-1000 guided missile destroyer project. After expenditures of over $10 billion, the program is abandoned at two ships, and the production line of the older Arleigh Burke-class destroyer will be reopened. A similar fate has struck the Littoral Combat Ship program, where a threefold cost increase and unrealistic schedules led to the cancellation of appropriations for the next two ships and to consequential rescheduling of the program. The discrepancy between plans, strategy, and reality will further produce a shortfall of nuclear submarines of up to seven boats over twelve years. This reality-strategy disconnect in the entire shipbuilding program is a case study in failed leadership on the part of the most senior officers and civilians in the Navy. No reforms in procurement, changes in program management, cost analysis, and test and evaluation can begin to compensate for taking hard and realistic decisions at the top, and holding senior flag officers, senior civilians, and the Secretary of the Navy accountable.

This is tough love and we mentioned something to this effect when the USAF was enduring its own leadership woes (and hotly criticized for it!). Here’s more:

The reality-strategy disconnect in the Navy’s shipbuilding program is, however, a case study in failed leadership on the part of the most senior officers and civilians in the Navy. No reforms in procurement, changes in program management, cost analysis, and test and evaluation can begin to compensate for taking hard and realistic decisions at the top, and holding senior flag officers, senior civilians, and the Secretary of the Navy accountable. The act that this same lesson applies to the Secretary of Defense, the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps also is scarcely an excuse.

Part of the problem comes from fundamentally unrealistic approaches to the entire process of force transformation and what is sometimes called the revolution in military affairs. In retrospect, one wonders if trying to rush forward to use technology to try to solve all military problems on the basis of requirements tailored more to the legacy of the Cold War than an era of irregular warfare did not do the entire process of US force planning more harm than good.

In part I disagree with this last paragraph. It is essential for the fleet to introduce new technology in order to keep it relevant in modern war. The problem has been to work such advanced designs while the warship was still under construction, drastically increasing costs and greatly delaying entrance into service. The fleet’s obsession with Big Ships is a further problem which we have discussed considerably, and again its the leadership’s fault for not mass producing cheap and easy to build platforms. Like this:

In the short term, we would call for a freeze on all Big Ship construction until the Navy can get its act together. All naval efforts for the near future should be geared toward supporting the War on Terror, not just the soft power cruises in Latin America or trying to create a Blue Water antagonist out of China. A mass program of small ships, corvette size (1500 tons) and smaller should be undertaken, with some off the shelf design, foreign or domestic. Like in the world wars such unloved but often essential escorts will greatly increase ship numbers while packing a punch far greater than their size entails.

From what we’ve seen since the 1990s, with the USN paying lip service to littoral operations while still building a Blue Water fleet, such drastic changes will entail all new leadership, until their own Petraeus is found.

Galrahn also comments on the study.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. charbookguy permalink
    August 17, 2008 8:04 am

    Smitty,
    This isn’t the first time in history that such an idea was proposed. For over a decade after WW1 America built no new battleships. Did we lose the ability to build armor plates or heavy guns, or large ships in general. Certainly not, and we came up with the excellent Iowas. How can we ever change if we never take a break and say “if this really necessary”. This is industrial tyranny not good building practices of wise strategy.

    Leesea, darn right! Shut them down and lets get a real strategy, what ever works we will keep and discard the rest. Enough of these imaginary future wars, lets win the one we’ve got. Currently we have a monopoly on precious arms, (More on this in an upcoming article), so we’d better figure out what kid of navy we won’t NOW, a world spanning fleet or a 200 ship fleet fit only for show.

    As for the Cyclone, I posted that pic Friday! USS Firebolt!

  2. leesea permalink
    August 17, 2008 12:50 am

    Mike,
    This is an unreasonable approach to correcting the problems with Navy SCN plans. The Navy needs Burkes AND smaller ships. The 1500 ton target is rather arbitrary especially since the Perry which need replacement are heavier and full frigates? Would you shut down all amphib and MSC ship builiding programs too? No mention is made of mulit-purpose ship designs like the Absalon or real stealth ships like the Visgys. Now there would be a change the USN buying a foreign design!

    LCS is a program which can be fixed but needs much more knowledgeable leadership and management.

    What is needed is a balance of good blue water ships and real ships that can operate in the littoral. Speed is the demon in most rqmts sets.

    The Stiletto toy boat is certainly a favorite of yours but of little real value. Why not show a Cyclone PC which is is dire need of replacement?

    Better yet we should start posting photos of all the good foreign designed warships which could be bought?!

    I remain convinced that NAVSEA is a major part fo the problem and as Pogo said “we has met the enemy and he is us”!

  3. B.Smitty permalink
    August 16, 2008 10:00 pm

    IMHO, if we freeze large ship construction we will loose the industry needed to build them. Companies will decide to move their business elsewhere. People with the critical skill sets will move on to other professions.

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